3D mammograms could catch more cancers

Mammogram machine

Women rely on mammograms to spot early signs of breast cancer before they can feel a lump. Now 3D mammograms are available in mid-Missouri, and one Columbia radiologist believes the high-tech scans will catch more cancers at an early stage.

Women probably won't see any difference between the mammogram machines at Boone Hospital and those at other hospitals, but the pictures they take are dramatically different.

Instead of seeing four images of the breast, top to bottom and side to side, the 3D mammogram shows many more small slices of tissue from all angles.

Dr. Terry Elwing, a radiologist at Boone Hospital explains, "Were actually going to be able to see deep inside the tissue and take small slices through the breast like we would with a CT scan."

Also known as tomosynthesis, the tube on the mammogram machine actually rotates to see the different angles while the breast is compressed. The exam will take just a few seconds longer than without 3D technology, but technicians say most women will not notice the change.

Some spots that looked suspicious with the old mammograms were actually not cancer. But with the new technology, doctors should be able to tell the difference and reduce the number of women called back for additional tests.

Critics say the technology will cost more when it's widely available, exposes women to slightly more radiation and it doesn't save lives.

But Dr. Elwing has already see the 3D pictures make a critical difference for women in Mid-Missouri.

"We've already found now, six, seven, eight cancers that we wouldn't have seen on the routine mammogram," says Elwing.

All of the machines at Boone Hospital have the 3D technology and it is used on every patient. Right now it doesn't cost patients anything extra.

Click here to see an extended interview with Dr. Elwing on how the 3D technology works.